RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- With each grueling step, the team eventually got closer to finishing the march; however, memories of this 100-mile journey will last a lifetime.
After carrying 22 pounds for 100 miles over a 4-day period, eight Airmen with the 693rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group here, completed the Vierdaagse march in Nijmegen, Netherlands, which ran July 16-19.
The Vierdaagse march was organized by the Dutch League for Physical Education. The first march took place in 1909, with participants walking 35 kilometers each day, totaling 140 kilometers in four days; that equates to roughly 86.992 miles. Today, this tradition continues as various military members participate and share tales of their adventures.
“I heard about the event from a member of my unit who participated the previous year and loved the experience,” said Capt. Owen Cooper, 24th Intelligence Squadron. “I decided I wanted to commit to the challenge and help better both my own physical fitness, as well as learn about other nations and their cultures – the march pulls together an average of 7,000 military members each year. I am extremely grateful I was given the opportunity to represent both my unit and the Air Force in such a prestigious and historic event.”
Camp Heummensoord hosts military participants from more than 20 nations during the Vierdaagse march. Camaraderie between the marchers is evident to participants throughout the camp, and was one of the key memories for Senior Airman John Alcazar, 24th IS.
“Heummensoord was an open bay ‘deployed-ish’ environment,” said Alcazar. “Each country had its own large tent to house participants. I thought it was really neat that you were able to walk around and trade patches and uniform items with members from other European countries within the camp.”
The 693rd ISRG’s team included eight Airmen comprised of members from the 24th IS, 450th Intelligence Squadron, and 693rd Intelligence Support Squadron, and relied heavily on each other to stay focused on completing the journey.
“Going through an especially challenging event with teammates is always a highly rewarding and bonding experience,” said Cooper. “Over the four days of the march we got to know each other very well, to include what motivated each of us and how to work as a team. When we were at the 75-mile mark on the third day I remember looking around at my teammates and understanding that each of us were going through the exact same thing, and somehow it made it a little easier to keep going.”
It was this feeling of not being along that contributed to Alcazar overcoming his mental obstacles.
“Another thing that kept me going when I was low on energy were all the kids that lined the roads we marched along,” he said. “All they wanted was a high-five from you, or to pat the American flag on our sleeves. I gave a lot of high-fives and handed out a lot of American flags. Seeing people happy to see American military members walking through their town was enough for me to keep my head and chin up, and walk proudly despite my body aching.”
Upon completion, the team received the Vierdaagsekruis, or Four Days Cross medal, from the Dutch government. Receiving this medal was a proud moment for the Airmen, but not as rewarding as finishing the march as a team.